I Went To A Hogwarts Cyberschool And Lived The Harry Potter Dream
All kids who grew up reading and watching J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series hoped to one day receive that very special invitation (via owl, of course) to magic school. “We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” it would say.
That is, if it ever came. Mine never did.
Instead of attending Hogwarts, I hung out in my dad’s computer room, where I reliably lost at Minesweeper on a clunky PC. But in 2001, nine-year-old me stumbled across a website called Adrienne’s Hogwarts. Its flaming logo drew me in because, hello, I was nine.
Adrienne’s Hogwarts was a fully-functioning cyberschool, complete with classes and homework, based on Rowling’s universe. It was run by “Headmistress” Adrienne Wolter, who was only 11 when she built the site from scratch. I immediately joined as a Gryffindor and, in the years that followed, it became a safe space for me to nerd out with fellow Potterheads.”I just wanted to connect with other Potter fans,” Wolter, now 26, told me over the phone last week. She founded Adrienne’s Hogwarts after a similar fan site shut down. This was during peak Pottermania—Sorcerer’s Stone had just hit theatres—so several Pottermore-esque communities were floating around the early internet.
Wolter decided she could “do it even better” than those sites, so she taught herself HTML and designed webpages using DreamWeaver software. Thus, Adrienne’s Hogwarts was born. It wasn’t very high-tech with its bright Comic Sans text, but it was still magical to me.
At first, most of the students were people Wolter knew in real life. Then she began entering internet competitions, increasing traffic. The site grew organically from there, with members spreading word to friends and friends of friends.
At one point, over 500 people from more than 60 countries were involved, but Wolter doesn’t have precise statistics aside from sizeable U.S., U.K., and Australian audiences.
“I didn’t have any kind of analytics or anything. I kick myself thinking of things I could’ve done to make it better now that I know much more,” she said.
Each student chose a username to use across the site. Mine was Divine, which makes me endlessly cringe to this day. (Again, I was nine, please don’t judge me.)
The above screenshot shows the status page—the Gringotts for Adrienne’s Hogwarts. Every student was listed, along with how many galleons, sickles, and knuts they’d earned, their year, a link to their vault (which held potions or books they’d bought), their last active date, and how many house points they’d won.
So how did students make money or win house points? Good old-fashioned Harry Potter trivia, like this homework for Defence Against the Dark Arts.
Then everyone took their hard-earned gold to Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, where shops sold all sorts of treats and tricks. Here’s a look inside Knockturn Alley’s Borgin and Burkes. Wolter designed the images using MS Paint and Fireworks.
Store transactions and assignment grading happened over email, which added up to hundreds of messages. Wolter spent three to five hours per day managing everything.”I’d come home from school, do my homework as fast as possible, and then work on Hogwarts the rest of the night,” she said. “If I ever took a break, then I’d have tons and tons of emails piled up and things would be out of date, so people might spend more money than they have in their account and stuff like that. It was kind of a beast to maintain.”
Eventually she brought on a team of six to 10 trusted students to help with the workload. Members also pitched in with user-submitted content, like a fan made 1000 Magical Herbs and Fungi. It had over 30 entries, atrocious grammar and all, and was the “most frequently plagiarized” part of the site.
“I don’t care at all about that now, but man, did that bother 12-year-old me,” Wolter said.
Here’s a plant I made up for the textbook: the Wocke, a name I definitely stole from the Neopets’s Wocky species. I’ve since learned the difference between “they’re” and “their.”
For me, the best part of Adrienne’s Hogwarts was meeting kids who were just as emotionally invested in Harry Potter as I was. I religiously logged on every day for three years. While I binge-read the books alone in my bedroom, attending this cyberschool made them more interactive, more real. Rowling’s words weren’t just a story anymore
My experience at the Yule Ball is a great example of this. The party was such a staple from Goblet of Fire that Wolter organized one for her students. She set up a password-protected chatroom—hilariously titled “The Great Hall Wazzup Message Board”—and on a Saturday night in December 2002, I attended this virtual ball from the comfort of my dad’s computer room.
My date? An Adrienne’s Hogwarts member whose username was Percyweasley, technically my first online date years before Tinder existed.
I shudder thinking about this today, because I have zero clue who Percyweasley was in real life. No one had taught me about internet safety. Catfish‘s Nev Schulman would shake his head at my ignorance.
“If anybody was being rude they’d just get kicked out,” Wolter said. “I think the internet was a nicer place back then. There definitely was not as much crazy stuff going on or people’s desire to just, like, destroy everything, which is partially why it was able to exist for so long.”
At the time, I excitedly told my real-life friends about how I’d asked a stranger online if he’d go to Yule Ball with me. They politely nodded along, probably too scared to tell me how batshit insane I was. I got similar reactions from people last Saturday when I showed up at a bar in my Gryffindor getup, eager to toast the midnight release of Cursed Child. Clearly my Harry Potter obsession wasn’t just a phase.
But Adrienne’s Hogwarts couldn’t last forever. Four years after its start, Wolter graduated from middle to high school at age 14. She didn’t have time to oversee the site anymore, so it faded into the depths of the internet by the end of 2004.
There were tentative plans to relaunch a faster automatic version in the future, but they didn’t pan out. Yet Wolter’s interest in web design, “ignited” by her Hogwarts, stuck around. She got her Bachelor’s in studio art from Kenyon College, then started working as an Earned Media Consultant at an internet marketing agency called WebpageFX. She also blogs about adult colouring books. In short, she continues to “live online” to this day.
As for me, I’m 50-some pages into Cursed Child and forcing myself to read it slowly. I want to savour it, you know? Make it last. Even though my Hogwarts acceptance letter got lost in the mail—the only plausible explanation, right?—that doesn’t mean I have to let go of Rowling’s magic just yet.